A creative title escapes my mind

Why do I write?

When I have free time on my hands, something that I seem to have less and less of, why would I choose to pick up a pen and press it to paper, scribbling out word after word? Why choose to sit behind the glowing screen of a computer, fingers taping on tiny little lettered squares?

Why, of all things, do I write?

To write is to speak. To myself and to you, my anonymous reader. To give you my voice, my ideas, without risking the stumble of my tongue. I am articulate, but unlike speech, my own speech, writing is organized- for the most part. To write is to reflect on events that have taken place, to reflect on my behavior, to reflect on who I am and who I’ve been, and how those two are twisted together. With writing, I can clearly see the way that my past and present are what will push me into the unknown- the future.

If writing ceased to exist, or had I chosen to excuse myself from the process, the task of the often time consuming exercise that is writing, I would not be able to track all the people I’ve been in my life. All the stages I’ve passed through. Writing is a record of my life, and as the author, I am at simultaneously  the most reliable and unreliable source. As objective as I would like to think I remain, I am flawlessly biased.

I write because I need to share my experiences. I need to share them with myself in a way that allows me to dig deeper into what transpired, and ask myself -how and why? To write is to take a step back from a painting, to see the picture in its whole, as opposed to the distance we often stand at to absorb detail. When I write, I draw a line between who I am in that exact moment, and who the girl is I am writing about. To reread my writing is a more accurate view than staring back at myself in a mirror. The reflection of your physical existence is only a tiny fraction of the person you are.

To write is to truly see myself. To uncover the things I often don’t want to think about. To uncover the things I would prefer not to remember. I write because it is the rawest, most basic form of truth. In writing I am fully exposed. Writing is spilling secrets, admitting mistakes, cleansing conscious. In writing, I take subject x and give it life, even if that is only words between lines. In those words lives a reality, and by placing them there I am faced to confront it. With each sentence I unwind the twisted and confused.

For me, thoughts are intangible when they exist only within your mind. Writing something down makes it real; there is an acknowledgment that an event took place, that you felt a certain way. My writing does not have to be read by another person for this acknowledgment to be validated. Writing allows me to remember the details of how an emotion really felt. Sometimes we forget what the happiest day of our lives felt like, or what being truly depressed feels like. It is a way of reminding myself how much better off or worse I’ve been, and it’s a way to record how I’m currently feeling, so as to remind my future self one day. It is important to remember all the people you’ve been, all the ways you’ve felt, all the things you’ve wished would passed and all the things you wished would never end. In writing I remind myself of what I want in life, who I want to be, how I plan to arrive there. My writing is like a giant sticky note of my life.

In writing I forgive. I heal. I vent. I praise. I question. I spill. In writing I release everything within myself so that there may be room for more. Memory is so incredibly faulty. It changes with time, and the more time that passes the harder details are to arrange. Details can become lost. We often replace them with new details without even realizing. I don’t want to lose the details of my life that I love. I don’t want to hear the same story so many different ways that I can’t even remember how it first went. Writing is the original copy. It’s also a paper trail to everything that came before this very moment.

The last fifteen years of my life are locked in a chest in my childhood bedroom. I’ve been a compulsive writer for as long as I can recall, and I have filled thousands of pages with my thoughts. To read my most personal writing as an outsider isn’t the same as me rereading it. I know who I was in that moment, during that time, and there is a connection with those words that another person can’t have. I’d like to be published one day. I think that’s part of the reason I started writing. My first journal was in third grade, and I think a part of me, even at that age, knew to start writing down my story. In hopes of one day having enough work to pile together into something between hard covers. No lined pages. No spirals as the bind.

To completely over generalize, so much happens in a life. The moments that mattered most in mine are hibernating in that chest until their time arrives. It is my task to figure out what comes next- how to translate my writing into a story that reaches beyond my own life. A story that closes the gap between the writer and the reader. Words that allow my stories to become yours. The ultimate goal will be finding the best way to articulate the emotions I’ve experienced over people and events that were personal and unique to my own life, into words that can be transferred into the reader’s life, your life.

We are all experiencing the same condition, the human struggle. My writing is an attempt to show that no matter how our individual experiences differ, we’re all in it together.

A reflection on Veteran’s Day

One week ago was Veteran’s Day. I decided since I live in Washington DC I should visit Arlington Cemetery. Arlington is our nation’s cemetery for all those who have served in the armed forces, and it is where my grandfather lays. For as long as I can remember, Veteran’s Day, for me, was just another day off of school. I’d never celebrated it for what it represents, for whom it represents. Both my father and grandfather served for our country, as I’m sure so did many others in my family’s history that I am unaware of.

I am not at the top of the list of the patriotic, but I can appreciate what it means to be American. My life in America has meant the freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of religion (which I choose not to have and no one cares, it doesn’t matter), equal rights, a good education, being raised in a family that can support me because they enjoyed the same privileges I do. I understand this is not the same for every American. Growing up in America, for me, has never meant growing up as the 1%. I don’t need to be in the 1% to enjoy every amazing opportunity that has been presented. I have been given so much. I’ve never struggled. I’ve never needed. I’ve never been hungry, homeless. Living a good life in America does not mean existing in this percentage that people have made out to be the mega monster capitalists of the world. I’ve never even thought about those who have so much more than I do, because I’ve always had enough.

Focus. I am getting off topic.

To be an American, means that I appreciate that there are people who are willing to risk their lives for my freedom. People my age who die so that I may live.  People who sacrifice their own opportunity at college, so that they can protect the freedoms that are guaranteed to me in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. I don’t agree with many of our country’s policies, foreign and domestic, but our country’s policies are not what Veteran’s Day is celebrating. It honors those who have dedicated their lives to protect a country. A country that I can live in and where I can freely express my opinions. They fight for my freedom of speech- so that I can say, “I fucking hate that we’re fighting other nations. I fucking hate the act of war. War is disgusting and destructive and it’s pathetic that this is the best solution the so called ‘smartest creature on earth’ can come up with.” Veteran’s Day is about individuals. It’s not about war. It’s not about America. It’s not about democracy. It’s about people.

The range of emotions that I experienced those hours spent at Arlington were so scattered. It was as if a child dropped a bag of rubber balls. Every ball representing a different emotion. Bouncing off into a different direction. A scattered spectrum. I felt Pride. Anger. Privilege. Guilt. Despair. Happiness. Confusion….. But most of all, I felt sadness. Rock bottom sadness.

After visiting my grandfather’s grave, I walked over to the area that was designated for all those who have lost their lives since 2001.  Row after row after row of graves marked for people who should be alive. People who were a year older than me. People who were younger than my little brother. Row after row after row. Mounds of fresh dirt. Lives lost so recently grass hasn’t had time to grow, head stones haven’t been made. This is my generation. They don’t belong in the ground.

Parents sat before their children’s graves, posted up in folding lawn chairs, scarves, mittens and blankets in their lap, braving the crisp cold Virginia morning air, to spend Veteran’s Day with their sons and daughters. I saw one father wiping down his son’s grave, while his wife rearranged the flowers at the base.

While walking through a grave yard as massive as Arlington it’s easy to be overcome by the sheer size of it. The perfectly aligned rows of polished white stone. Each with the same lettering engraved upon the face. The exact measured distance between each row. It’s so overwhelming. So impersonal at moments. You forget that bodies separate each row. Thousands and thousands of people lay beneath the earth you walk on. A sense of distance is created in a graveyard when you walk though the rows, and you think of the people as those whose lives have passed. Those who have been under the ground long enough for their body to be reclaimed by the same earth that gave it everything it needed to live. But when you see that fresh mound of dirt, the one where no grass grows, the distance collapses. This is new. This just happened. Someone just lost the person they love most in this world.  The presence of the parents, distance collapses. These soldiers are children. They have mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters. They’re not just soldiers. They’re not just faceless men at war, fighting in a far off land. A land you and I talk about, read about, which only exists for us in college lecture halls, on the tv, the internet. A place so fucking familiar, yet you and I will never go there. We’ll never know.

It really hit me in those moments that those gravestones aren’t just names and dates. They’re your neighbor, your best friend, your girlfriend, your fiancé. Your child. Your child. Your CHILD.  I kept coming back to the fact that all these graves were children. When I say child I don’t mean in the sense of a little kid. In the eyes of their parents, these were their children. It was the presence of all the parents that hurt my heart. It destroys the rule of nature, of decency, of logic, of everything that should be right in this world, to know that a parent buries their child. That a parent feels the pain of losing who they created. That’s not fucking right. Ever.

Seeing parents hug one another, comfort each other on this national day of loss, created that feeling within me. That one really heavy feeling that starts behind your belly button, and rises with pressure up through your chest, shoving against your rib cage, jamming itself against the bottom of your throat until that lump rises. Until tears flow. I kept trying to swallow, to resist the temptation to cry over people I had never met. Never would meet.

After wandering by myself for a bit I met back up with my friend who was speaking with a woman. I approached them and I heard her ask him to make a toast. She pulled out a Dixie cup, poured me a shot of Crown Royal, and we toasted to her son. I didn’t say anything. Language failed me. I couldn’t open my lips. Within minutes of meeting her I was choking back tears. They toasted to James, and then she told us the story of who he was, where he was, how he died. All of the details.  The pain in her story was unlike anything I’d ever heard. The words she used to describe how amazing, brave, talented, intelligent and missed her son was. She said he knew he was going to lose his life. How he called her and told her he felt it was going to happen soon and he just wanted to come home and never return again. How when it happened, in his last moments of life, he was still giving commands, making sure that those he lead and those who were hurt were taken care of. The story of someone’s loss, a mother’s loss, was unbearable. Her confession that things haven’t been right since. She hasn’t been the same and nothing makes sense. She doesn’t make sense to herself anymore. What it means to lose your child.

I had resisted writing about this for the past week because I didn’t know how. I didn’t know where to begin. The most important thing she told me was that her son asked her that if he were to die, that she would make sure that he was never forgotten. “Just remember me.” That he would continue to live in people’s memories.

I am not going to retell the details she told me. Her sharing of his life is something that will remain forever stored in my own memory. Rather, I’m sharing my experience with you, and the pictures, because it allows us to share a common, if general knowledge. A knowledge of lives lost. Children gone. For you and I. War is fucking awful and dirty and it takes people away from one another. It erases individuals who should be here. Be present. That is Veteran’s Day. Not forgetting.

“To generalize about war is like generalizing about peace. Almost everything is true. Almost nothing is true. At its core, perhaps, war is just another name for death, and yet any soldier will tell you, if he tells the truth, that proximity to death beings with it a corresponding proximity to life. After a firefight, there is always the immense pleasure of aliveness. All around you things are purely living, and you are among them, and the aliveness makes you tremble. You feel an intense, out-of-the-skin awareness of your living self- your truest self, the human being you want to be and then become by the force of wanting it. In the midst of evil you want to be a good man. You want decency. You want justice and courtesy and human concord, things you never knew you wanted. Though it’s odd, you’re never more alive than when you’re almost dead. You recognize what’s valuable. Freshly, as if for the first time, you love what’s best in yourself and in the world, all that might be lost. You are filled with a hard, aching love for how the world could be and always should be, but now is not.”

Dear little Allie…..

It’s always weird when a child decides they are going to have a stare down with you. I should rephrase. When a child decides they are simply going to stare at you. For as long as they please.

There is this girl on the metro. I don’t know- maybe eight, give or take a year. I would assume old enough to have introspective thoughts, or at least in the most basic form. I think. Shes old enough to be starring at me and probably thinking about me.

Am I seriously being analyzed by a kid right now? Am I seriously analyzing the situation of a kid analyzing me? Oh god, I am…..

…..I looked up and met her eyes and gave her a smile and then looked back down at my ipod. Shuffling to another song. Distracting myself.

I look back up and shes still starring at me. No expression. Just a stare. Wide eyed. Gaze set on me. What on earth could this kid be thinking about. Just starring at me, her mind running.

A part of me feels awkward under the relentless eyes of this child. Another part admires the part that she hasn’t learned to be coy yet. To have social manners. To understand that you just don’t stare at someone for minutes on end. Especially a stranger. There are so many things that children haven’t learned yet. I start to wonder if starring at someone is something you are ever told not to do, or if its one of those things you just learn as you get older? Not everything we learn as we grow up our parents tell us, nor do our teachers. Some things I suppose we just learn from observing others.

What was I like when I was this girls age?

I remember being really curious. Always wanting to experiment. Always wanting to write everything down that I did or saw. Not that much has changed.

I remember being fascinated with those who were older than me too. I remember being fascinated with the idea of one day having my own place, being able to cook myself whatever I wanted to eat for dinner, being able to drive myself wherever I wanted to go that day, having a job where I got money. Now that I have all these grown up advantages I don’t really want them any more. Isn’t that how it goes? Being a young adult and having unlimited freedom and no one to tell you what to do isn’t half bad, but being a kid was so nice. It was so carefree. I remember days where all I had to do was entertain myself. No responsibilities, no where to be. Just hanging out.

The pain of the world was still hidden. You haven’t begun to question your purpose in life. No one you know has died. You haven’t experienced heart brake. The problems of your parents aren’t something you think about when your mind wanders. Theres no what ifs, time spent wondering what could have been. You don’t have to plan ahead. You don’t have obligations, priorities, things that would cause you any stress at all. Remember when you didn’t know what stress felt like??? When you’re a kid there aren’t sleepless nights. There are nightmares and your parents bed to crawl into. When you’re a kid you don’t think about what others think of you. They either like you or don’t. and when they don’t, end of story. There isn’t a self reflection of why that would be.

Complexity is just- non existent.

Remember when the only thing you regretted was not staying out later on Halloween so that you could get even more candy?

Remember when you could eat all of your Halloween candy in a sitting, and you’d still feel good afterwards?

Being a kid is sweet. Very very sweet. I wish I could forewarn my childhood self of the attachments that come with being a young adult.  I wish I could tell eight year old Allie that life is good, don’t be in such a rush to grow up.

A stare from a child got my mind racing all over the past. What on earth is she thinking about as she continues to stare?